I never met Jack Wilson.
Jack’s the friend of a friend. I’m told he was a master staircase builder by trade, the father of two sons and, for 33 years, the faithful husband of his college sweetheart, Becky. That’s Jack on the right in a playful moment during a wedding back in September.
There’s a reason why I’m relaying this story to you which will be clear in a moment. But first, here’s what happened.
About three days before Thanksgiving, Jack felt extreme discomfort in his lower back. The initial prognosis was a herniated disc. He was sent home with pain pills and attempted to get some rest. Given the fact that Jack spent long hours lugging oak, hickory and maple timbers to his workbench, and then spent hours hunched over the expertly milled planks, measuring, cutting, and shaping them with steady hands into a thing of beauty, this lower back assessment made sense.
However, even the powerful medication didn’t make a dent in the pain. For several days, Jack couldn’t sleep which, in turn, created fatigue and a loss of appetite. On Thanksgiving Day, he was too ill to participate in the family meal or festivities. On Friday, Jack was admitted to the hospital where his condition quickly got worse—much to the alarm of all. He had to be intubated and sedated.
On Saturday the family was told Jack was in a deep coma.
According to a MRI, 90% of Jack’s brain function was gone. Because fluid was building up within his skull, a shunt had to be installed. Meanwhile, Jack developed pneumonia and bleeding in his abdomen. The doctors had never seen anything like this before. Without a miracle, Becky knew Jack would be dead sometime in the next day or so.
As my friend, Becky’s brother, shared the details of this story with me, I was struck at how incredibly difficult it must be to make any sense out of the speed of this sudden illness. One moment Jack was at work providing for his family, serving in church, laughing and playing cards with friends; the next moment—less than a handful of days—he was virtually gone although he had had no prior symptoms.
I can only imagine the world of hurt this family experienced over the Thanksgiving weekend.
On Tuesday, just five days after being admitted to the hospital, Jack died. He was surrounded by his extended family and friends singing scripture songs, praying, and sending him off to glory bathed in love.
I cannot say why this thing has happened. I don’t pretend to have the right words to say to bring them comfort or some special insight that will help their loss “make sense.” But I do know two things with certainty. First, God is still on His throne. None of this is a surprise to Him. His love for us is not diminished by the unexpected. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. And while we don’t see the point now, I believe there’s a purpose to this pain.
Secondly, Jack’s situation is a fresh reminder that my days are numbered. None of us knows the day or the hour when the Author of Life will call us home. In fact, personally speaking, I have had three people I know die this week. The grief is so overwhelming.
As Moses prayed in Psalm 90, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In that respect, between the brevity of life and the quickness in which death sometimes comes, I want to be the kind of husband who doesn’t allow pettiness or pride to sabotage my marriage, or permit a quick temper to cripple my relationship with my boys, or a misunderstanding to create strife at work.
Yes, I want to celebrate every heartbeat. And I know the best way to do that is to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.